Kylian Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe scores France’s second goal against Poland in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, on December 4, 2022. Mbappe leads the scoring chart with five goals. Image Credit: AP

How do you stop a striker like Mbappe? You can’t, according to Czeslaw Michniewicz. “There is no recipe to stop [Kylian] Mbappe in the form he is in,” the Poland manager said after the loss to France in the Round of 16. Two sumptuous strikes from the French forward killed off the Polish challenge, and that must have been a scary sight for Gareth Southgate, whose England meet them in the quarterfinals on Saturday (November 10).

Mbappe’s statistics are mindboggling. Five goals and two assists in Qatar have put him in pole position for the Golden Boot award. His World Cup tally has swelled to nine goals, and at 23, Mbappe is the youngest player to do so, beating Portugal’s Eusebio, who scored eight by the age of 24 years and 182 days. More alarming to Mbappe’s rivals is his strike rate: 16 goals in the last 14 games in French colours.

At this rate, Olivier Giroud’s newly minted record is in jeopardy. The 36-year-old became France’s top scorer with the goal against Poland, beating Thierry Henry’s 13-year record of 51 goals. Giroud’s milestone is in danger of being overhauled sooner than that. Mbappe has struck 33 international goals in five years, and he’s only 23. So Giroud’s record is likely to be shortlived.

That’s a terrifying thought for France’s rivals. In 2018, the football fraternity took notice of the teenager’s prodigious talent when he struck a double blow against Argentina, equalling Pele’s 60-year record of scoring twice in a World Cup game. Four years have sharpened his skills and goalscoring instincts.

The speed and power of Mbappe

In Qatar, Mbappe started with a goal against Australia, followed by a double against Denmark. He was at his best in the Round of 16 on Sunday, laying the pass for Giroud’s 52nd goal for France before scoring twice in the second half. A brutal shot whizzed past Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, and the Paris Saint-German player followed it up with a stunning curler into the far post. High-quality goals, indeed.

What makes Mbappe so lethal? His speed is a significant factor. He can explode from a standing position, leaving his marker far behind. The body fients make his turn of foot even more effective: ask the Polish defender Matty Cash, who ended up on his back. The electrifying runs are often followed by powerful shots. He can read the game and set up passes too: two assists in the tournament are proof enough.

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Without a shred of doubt, Mbappe has so far been the player of the tournament. That’s incredible in a World Cup, where Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo have hogged the headlines. If he continues in this vein, Mbappe could be football’s next superstar.

What does that mean for France? Coach Didier Deschamps is thrilled. “We know about Kylian. We have already seen him, and he speaks on the football pitch. He knows he can change a match in a moment. He plays with such joy and smiles,” the BBC quoted him as saying.

The striker’s effervescent form is a worry for England, who face France in the quarterfinals, and Southgate must be plotting to minimise the damage from Mbappe. They can ill-afford defensive errors, given Mbappe’s pace and shooting skills.

England’s progress depends on how they cope with a problem like Mbappe. Can they? Saturday will provide the answer.